Predictions for the 2019 FCS college football season? Sure, they're easy:
Jacksonville State will win the Ohio Valley Conference title. San Diego will obliterate the Pioneer Football League. North Dakota State will capture the FCS national title again.
Yada, yada, yada.
The 2019 season has the chance to be different, so let's get a little bolder as we head toward the most wonderful time of the year for all 126 FCS programs. Following are 10 predictions that would make for a wild and wacky campaign.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
Week 1 is one to #FearTheFCS
You'll be seeing a lot of the aforementioned hashtag in the first full week of the season, which starts Thursday night of Labor Day weekend. An incredible 40 FCS teams will get their shot at FBS opponents, meaning there should be five, six, seven, maybe even more upsets in possibly one of the best weekends of all-time.
The Group of 5 programs are always most at risk, and the potential upsets include Albany at Central Michigan, Northern Colorado at San Jose State, Illinois State at Northern Illinois, Colgate at Air Force, Incarnate Word at UTSA and Sam Houston State at New Mexico.
But Power 5 schools are on alert as well with key matchups including South Dakota State at Minnesota, Montana State at Texas Tech, James Madison at West Virginia and Indiana State (led by quarterback Ryan Boyle) at Kansas.
(Photo courtesy of Indiana State Athletics)
There will be a second straight unbeaten season, but it won't be NDSU
FCS national champion North Dakota State enters the season with a Division I-leading 21-game winning streak after going 15-0 a year ago, but the other team that went unbeaten — Princeton (10-0) — will be the one to pull off back-to-back unbeaten records.
Sure, that may be drinking the Kool-Aid at Old Nassau because the defending Ivy League champion lost quarterback John Lovett and its key skill position players, but the defense could be even better (eight returning starters) and the Tigers have an easy first half of the schedule to set up potential perfection.
Head coach Bob Surace's squad faces its key test eight days apart in November: Dartmouth (9-1 last season) and 2017 Ivy champ Yale.
(Photo courtesy of Princeton Athletics)
CAA playoff bids will be cut in half
After CAA Football set the FCS single-season record with six playoff bids last season, could the total be chopped to three? It's quite possible. Like the Missouri Valley Football Conference last season, CAA teams may beat up on each other a little too much in conference play.
In the CAA, James Madison was picked No. 1 in the conference's preseason poll, while Towson was a surprising second over Maine, the defending champion which advanced to the national semifinals for the first time. Towson, has to prove itself after getting routed by Duquesne in the first round of the playoffs.
After being in the playoffs, Elon will face a difficult schedule, while Delaware (led by quarterack Pat Kehoe) and Stony Brook have to overcome key losses to graduation. Nobody knows what to expect from New Hampshire after its 14-year playoff run ended last season, and Villanova is hoping for a rebound.
(Photo courtesy of Delaware Athletics)
Eric Barriere will claim the Payton Award
Eastern Washington and Villanova have the most Walter Payton Award winners with three each. The Eagles' Barriere may be ready to break the tie.
As a redshirt sophomore, Barriere replaced an injured Gage Gubrud (now at Washington State) as the starting quarterback in early October and went on to help the Eagles earn a share of the Big Sky title and reach the FCS championship game. He accounted for 31 touchdowns in 10 starts, passing for a playoff-record seven TDs against Maine in a national semifinal.
Eastern Washington isn't facing last year's other three playoffs teams from the Big Sky (Weber State, UC Davis and Montana State), so Barriere and the offense will put up big numbers.
(Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington Athletics)
Zach Hall won't repeat as the Buck Buchanan recipient
In the 25th anniversary season, it would be cool if Hall, a linebacker from Southeast Missouri State and last year's Buck Buchanan Award, joins former Appalachian State All-American Dexter Coakley, the inaugural national defensive player of the year in 1995 and a repeat winner a year later, as the second two-time recipient.
But let's face it, it's Hall versus the field. Those are long odds with offenses even more focused on stopping the Ohio Valley Conference star plus the likes of Montana linebacker Dante Olson, North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox, and others set for All-America campaigns.
(Photo courtesy of Southeast Missouri State Athletics)
Montana will play for its playoff life against archrival
It's almost unfathomable Montana has missed the playoffs in three straight seasons. To end the drought — and, yes, it's a drought — the Griz may have to forge their way in with a road victory against archrival Montana State on Nov. 23, the final Saturday of the regular season.
Sure, Montana has a talented squad (including Buck Buchanan Award candidate Dante Olson), but we've also heard that going into recent seasons. In head coach Bobby Hauck's second season of his second stint in Missoula, the Griz have to navigate a solid non-conference schedule — road trips to South Dakota and Oregon and home games against North Alabama and Monmouth — and face a Big Sky schedule with the three defending champs (UC Davis, Eastern Washington and Weber State) before their trip to Bozeman.
Their record could be in the 7-4/6-5 range when they play for their playoff life.
(Photo courtesy of Montana Athletics)
San Diego won't be in the playoffs
San Diego enters the season with a 29-game winning streak in the Pioneer Football League — 10 shy of the all-time record in the FCS. The Toreros have earned league titles in seven of the last eight seasons, and they would have earned a share in 2013 had they not been declared ineligible for improperly awarding financial aid.
This season, San Diego is vulnerable. The Toreros were nearly last in the PFL in total defense a year ago; four-year starting quarterback Anthony Lawrence, the PFL's two-time offensive player of the year, is no longer around to bail them out; and there are four trips to the eastern time zone — Davidson, Dayton, Stetson and Jacksonville.
The rest of the PFL is ready for a different ending.
(Photo courtesy of San Diego Athletics)
Half of the conference champs won't repeat
Sure, some of the 2018 conference champions won't repeat in '19. But maybe over half of the 13 conferences will have someone new wearing the crown.
There's just so many good programs.
Last year's outright champs were Kennesaw State (Big South), Maine (CAA), Princeton (Ivy), North Carolina A&T (MEAC), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Colgate (Patriot), San Diego (Pioneer), and Alcorn State (SWAC).
There were shared titles in the Big Sky (Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Weber State), Northeast Conference (Duquesne and Sacred Heart), Southern Conference (ETSU, Furman and Wofford), and Southland Conference (Nicholls and Incarnate Word).
(Photo courtesy of Kennesaw State Athletics)
Southern will be the top HBCU program
Only four programs have appeared in the first four Celebration Bowls, three-time champion North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central out of the MEAC and Alcorn State and 2016 champ Grambling State from the SWAC.
It may be Southern's time to shine in Atlanta.
Head coach Dawson Odums' squad has most of its impact players, including quarterback Ladarius Skelton, among 17 returning starters and also has added a handful of FBS transfers. A strong non-conference schedule will prepare the Jaguars for the SWAC schedule.
(Photo courtesy of Southern Athletics)
National champion... South Dakota State
Um, that headline isn't wrong, it's not supposed to say "North Dakota State."
South Dakota State, the only program to beat the Bison twice since the first of their seven FCS championship seasons in 2011, may be ready to take the crown away — in both the Missouri Valley Football Conference and in Frisco, Texas, site of the national final.
SDSU is coming off back-to-back appearances in the national semifinal. While it is replacing star quarterback Taryn Christion, the new starter will be surrounded by some of the best talent in the FCS, including linebacker Christian Rozeboom, wide receiver Cade Johnson, running back Pierre Strong Jr., and placekicker Chase Vinatieri.
Head coach John Stiegelmeier's program is ranked No. 3 in the Athlon Sports FCS Preseason Top 25.
Related: 2019 FCS National Title Contenders
(Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Athletics)